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Abd Al-Haleem Hafiz vs. Um Kalthoom

November 30, 2006 on 6:00 pm | In Miscellaneous | No Comments

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Arab clulture, Abd Al-Haleem and Um Kalthoom are without any argument the two greatest male and female, respectively, arab singers the world has ever seen.

Personally, I listen to Abd Al-Haleem much more than Um Kalthoom. Its not that I like him more than I like her. Its that each of them is a different experience to listen to, conveying a different array of emotions.

Listening to Um Kalthoom is a very serious matter, like sitting in an opera house listening to Mozart’s 40th symphony being played by an orchestra of more than 100 instrument players. Every part of your body goes numb except your ears, which are trying to keep up with all the instrument sounds, and your brain, which is trying to soak in all that range of emotions. Its a very enjoyable experience, yet one you don’t want to go through often, and when you do, it will be with a very serious expression on your face.

Abd Al-Haleem, on the other hand, is a whole different affair. To me, listening to Abd Al-Haleem is like cruising through a valley in a convertible roadster with the top down, surrounded by grapevines on a sunny spring afternoon. It stimulates all your senses. Excites every cell in your body. Its something you go through with an ear to ear smile on your face. Grin like you have found the reason behind life itself.

I think this is why you hear the audience in Um Kalthoom’s concerts suddenly shout “3athama 3ala 3athama” (which translates literally to “greatness upon greatness”), while in Abd Al-Haleem’s concerts you hear them say “mnil 2awal tani” (which is a request to start again from the beginning). The first is great, but the second you can’t get enough of.

Using a PS3 for raw image conversion

November 26, 2006 on 11:39 pm | In Linux, Technology | No Comments

Earlier this year, I did some reading about the IBM-Sony-Toshiba Cell processor architecture, with its eight SPE (Synergistic Processing Elements). Like I said in a previous post, I believe that the Xbox360 tripple core PowerPC processor has more appeal for general purpose applications, but now that I am working on digital image processing applications, the two Cell processors inside Sony’s Play Station 3 console start to look really appealing. There are quite a few reasons why a PS3 would rock if used to carry the heavy procesing required in digital image processing such as raw conversion and photo retouching.

First, such applications lend themselves very well to heavy multithreading since most of the processing is simply running one or more functions iteratively on each pixel, so adapting code to run on the Cell’s SPE units shouldn’t be a complicated task. Second, The fact that each SPE has its own high speed local memory that is accessible and addressable by the softwre running on the main PPE (Power Processor Element) PowerPC core means that the application can quite easily load the image data they want to each of those processing elements.

Now, even with two Cell processors on board the PS3, I doubt the computation power would be anything close to what your average Geforce 7 or ATI 1xxx series graphics card can deliver. However, those SPEs inside the Cell processor should be much easier to program, like I said because each has its own memory that the application running on the PPE core can access and program.

Now that we have Linux running on the PS3, it would be interesting to see someone port, or create things like image processing, audio and/or video transcoding applications that can take advantage of the considerable amount of processing power that all those SPE units have to cut down processing times.

Why am I concerned? Because I started working on an application that allows photographers to adjust raw digital images prior to debayering/demosaicing those images to full RGB. Since then, my work expanded into the raw conversion process itself, where I managed to come with my own debayering algorithm. I am still working on adding support for the various camera makers raw file formats but hope to get the chance to port my code to something like a PlayStation 3 which would allow my application to execute several times faster than any x86 desktop or workstation available today and probably anytime in the next year, if not more.

Then and Now

November 19, 2006 on 11:13 pm | In Miscellaneous | No Comments

I was just watching on CNN a rerun of CNN Presents: Combat Hospital. This documentary is about an ER in the green zone in what used to be Ibin Al-Nafees hospital in Baghdad. The documentary shows a glimpse on how many people are injured or killed each day in Iraq due to roadside bombs and assassinations.

Watching this show reminded me of when my own uncle was injured and lost sight in both eyes as a result of those injuries back in 2004 in a skirmish between a US patrol near his house and some terrorists. It also reminded me of a close friend of mine who lost both his father and uncle this summer, in a car bomb that detonated in front of the small shop they both owned.

Just writing the last paragraph reminds me of over a dozen people I knew who died in some sort of explosion or shot dead by some terrorists.

———-

All this made me think, which is worse, the days under Saddam’s regime, or these days where hundreds of people are dying every day at random.

On the one side, Saddam and his regime were responsible for killing some two million Iraqis over the years (and that is excluding the close to one million who died in the 8 years long war with Iran). It’s almost impossible to actually grasp of how many people died under his regime until you visit those areas of the country that were affected the most. I had the chance to work with the media for a while back in 2004. In one occasion, we went to cover the arrival of the Japanese forces in the southern Iraqi city of Simawa. It was there that I really got to feel how horrible days must have been for those people. It was very hard to find a home or shop where people didn’t have one or more pictures hanged on the wall with a black ribbon on its upper right corner. Those are pictures of members of their families who were killed by the regime.

Three places there really stuck in my mind. One is a mechanic shop where the owner lost two of his brothers, both students in high school. I asked him what happened, and he told me they went out with a few hindered other high school students in a protest against the regime back in 1979. They were arrested by the security forces during the protest, and that was it. The family never heard of them again until 1982 when they were informed that their sons were dead, and prohibited from arranging any funeral ceremonies for them. The father died soon after from a heart attack. The second place was a small grocery shop up the street from the house we lived in while in the small city. Again, the brother of the owner of this small shop lost a brother, who was an engineering student in the University of Diwaneyah. This time, the fellow was “suspected of having ties with malicious parties”. Again, their brother never returned, nor did the family hear anything about what happened to him. The third place was the house we lived in while in the city. The house was rented to us almost empty, but there were some family pictures here and there in a couple of the rooms. When we rented the house, the family whom we dealt with always referred to the house as their cousins. Naturally, after we found the pictures, we asked the cousins about what happened to the owner and his family. We knew from a previous conversation that he was a civil engineer and that his wife worked at the city municipality, so I thought they must have left the country. It turns out that the entire family (including their two kids that looked to be 5 years old at most in those pics we found) was arrested again on “suspicion of having ties with malicious parties” and no one heard anything of them until the fall of the regime in 2003, where their relatives were able to find some papers that stated they died sometime in the mid-80s.

———-

While millions of people died under Saddam’s regime, in terms of security, the country was quite safe. Sure, robberies weren’t that uncommon, especially car robberies. But one could go out well after midnight in his/her car almost anywhere in the country without fearing for their lives. Especially during summer, the streets of Baghdad were never empty, and many cafes and restaurants would be open until sunrise. Back then, the only thing that would stop people from going to work and students from attending classes during week days apart from a holiday would be heavy rain during winter which would cause small floods in some areas of Baghdad.

———-

After the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003 I, like millions of other Iraqis, felt this was the dawn of a new day. Before the war, the future was very dim, at best, for most of the country’s youth. I was a still studying to get my masters at the time, but before the war, there was really very little I could do to earn a living out of my degree. Leaving the country was not an option at the time because everyone who held a science, engineering, medical, or any post graduate degree was banned from travel. In fact, we couldn’t have passports issued in our names, heck we even couldn’t get graduation papers without a decree from the minister of higher education.

So, naturally we felt that finally things were going to improve for the hundreds of thousands who graduate from university every year. Financially, things did improve. The difference between then and now is like night and day, but at what cost?

———-

Today, from the over a dozen of professors and assistant professors who taught me when I was in university, only two are still in the country. All the others have left. Baghdad University, the largest university in Iraq, and where about 50,000 students attend their classes every day has only 15% of its faculty left. The average class at Baghdad University was about 45 students. Divide that by the number of students who attend the university there has to be at least 1100 professors, assistant professors, and lecturers in order to cover all those classes at any given day. This means that there are over 900 academics that left the country from Baghdad University alone.

I hear a lot of US officials stating in the media that the Iraqi government needs to step up. I ask, how can a government step up in anything when almost all the brains in the country have either fled to elsewhere, or died on the hand of a terrorist or some road side bomb while on their way to work???

A wise guy once said “peace is constructed, not fought for.”

———-

Not to brag, but I had ALOT of friends in high school, and then in university, and I can think of only a small bunch of those who are still in the country. Almost everyone else I know, and almost everyone each of my friends knows has left the country.

No amount of money can rebuild a country if there are none of its sons there to do the rebuilding.

Then again, can anyone blame them for leaving?

When you see so many people dying around you every day, there aren’t that many options to choose from. Keep in mind that there are over 150,000 (that is 50 Iraqis killed for every American killed in Iraq) people who died due to violence since the war according to the most recent estimate by the Iraqi government, and I tend to believe that estimate from what I have seen and heard so far.

———-

And don’t even get me started about the kidnappings…

———-

I am always asked about whether the situation in Iraq was better before the war, or whether things are better now?

I don’t know, you tell me…

On board the USS Enterprise

November 9, 2006 on 10:41 pm | In Miscellaneous | No Comments

Today, I had the chance to visit the legendary nuclear aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise (CVN-65). As if that wasn’t enough, we had the luck to go to the Enterprise on board the carrier’s captain boat!!!

The USS Enterprise

Needless to say, it was a blast. A once in a lifetime experience.

Catapult 3 on the flight deck of the Enterprise

Once on the flight deck, we had the freedom to go around and take pictures of anything and everything on the deck. I took plenty of pictures of my favorite aircraft, the Lokheed S-3 Viking. I also got to take plenty of pics for F/A-18 Super Hornets, the smaller F/A-18 Hornets, upgraded Grumman E-2C Hawkeyes (all of which are of the Group III/NP2000 variant, identified by its scimitar 8-blade props), the beautiful Grumman EA-6B Prowler, and the Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk (the Navy version of the Blackhawk). In total, there are 66 aircrafts onboard the Enterprise (as noted by its captain and several officers onboard the ship).

The entire album of the pics I took on board the USS Enterprise can be viewed at http://iraqigeek.com/images/ and click on the USS Enterprise album on the left panel.

In front of the Control Tower

UPDATE: The captain told us there were 66 aircrafts in total on board the ship. However, I was able to count 62 aircraft only. I was able to count 43 (8 in the hanger deck and 35 in the flight deck) F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets (mostly Hornets), six (6) S-3B Vikings, 4 E-2C Hawkeyes (all are Group-III upgraded planes), four (4) EA-6B Prowlers, and five (5) SH-60 Seahawks.

EDIT: Due to the actions of a retarded, sick person who is so full of his own crap, I had to remove a picture of myself, my sister and Captin Lawrence Rice, the captain of the USS Enterprise. A picture I was quite proud of.


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